In a Trying Year for Sports, Robert from Waterloo is a Shining Light

Contributor – Sports Illustrated –

As a journalist, one often becomes hardened and cynical, seeing dark clouds on the horizon even when the sun is shining bright and the birds are singing.

Every year there is happiness in the world of college sports whenever a team wins a big game, scores a shocking upset or wins a national championship. However, in 2011, especially in the last few months, there has been so much darkness it almost seemed like a total eclipse.

The list of tragedies and scandals has been staggering while depressing many who seek sports as an outlet away from the usual maddening stories that land on Page 1. While seeking shelter from the bad news, I recently found comfort and joy in the most unlikely place: Waterloo, Iowa.

For months I knew him only as “Robert from Waterloo.” He was just another faceless friend from a faraway town who called my radio show.

His name is Robert Fisher, a 33-year-old college football fan who has cerebral palsy. He’s in a wheelchair, but works part-time at Hy-Vee, a supermarket chain based in the Midwest. He’s smart and sensible and simply enjoys the games, never fretting too long on the wins and losses. He has no hate or bitterness and doesn’t want pity or sympathy. He just wants your friendship and respect for his opinions. Every day when he calls, his customary salutation is: “Hey, what’s up, buddy?”

He is always cheerful and wants to know how I’m doing. He spends a chunk of every day listening to my show. In his phone calls, Robert asks questions, pontificates about timely topics or about games he’s seen on TV, and offers predictions just like other callers.

What is a bit different and refreshing about Robert is that he looks for the good in sports and in people. He gives “shout outs” to fellow callers instead of bashing them just for the fun of it. It is clear that he really enjoys sports very much and the constant debate about teams, coaches and players. The audience enjoys hearing Robert’s enthusiasm as well.

I was fortunate to spend a few hours with Robert and his family several weeks ago. If the experience doesn’t change my life forever, I’m wasting a rare and precious gift.

Not long after Robert began calling the show, he invited me to come see him in Waterloo. I said sure, without really thinking about it or calculating the distance (862 miles) from my front door. Several months later, the renowned sports medicine specialist and orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Larry Lemak, a regular show guest, was in studio. Once again, Robert, while on the air, invited me to come to Iowa. Lemak, who owns a private plane, looked at me and said, “Let’s do it.” So, on a late October day in the middle of football season, we took off from Birmingham at dawn for the nearly two-hour flight to Iowa.

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